Introducing Papers Past and Digital New Zealand

My new blog series focuses on some of my favourite free Australasian family history research websites, and this month's focus is on Papers Past which is a portal site maintained by the National Library of New Zealand. Papers Past is a portal to a range of digitised resources useful for genealogy in New Zealand. Remember too that the site is added to on a regular basis.

What is in Papers Past?

Papers Past provides easy access to:

  • Digitised New Zealand and Pacific newspapers from the 19th and 20th centuries
  • Magazines and Journals published in New Zealand from 1868 to 1975
  • Letters and Diaries
  • Parliamentary Papers including reports and publications from New Zealand’s House of Representatives.

Digitised Newspapers

Search options include by title, region or year. You can use keywords or a name, search between dates, search all titles or all regions and by content. Within keywords there are three options - all of these words, any of these words and the exact phrase.

Sometimes it is better to do a broad search and then filter down. There is no preview panel, so it can be time consuming to check individual results for details.

On the Home Page, there is a list of the latest additions to Papers Past and at the time of writing this blog post, it was a May 2018 update with eight new titles.

Newspaper vendor, ca 1935-1939, UK, by Marion Queenie Kirker, gift of Anne Kirker, 1993, O.039033, image courtesy of Te Papa.

Like other digitised newspaper collections, you can search for birth, death and marriage notices, funeral notices and obituaries, arrivals and departures, school results and other family related information. Sometimes there may even be a photograph associated with the story.

Magazines and Journals

This section can be searched by title, by date or by keywords with filters for dates, titles and content. It can be useful to search magazines and journals for people as these types of publications often included local news and events. For example, the New Zealand Tablet published numerous accounts of the South African War (Boer War) with the names of soldiers at the front. In January 1900 there were lists of Catholic officers including those from Australia, England and Canada. While only giving the person’s name, rank, and regiment, this can still be useful in identifying other military records for the person.

Letters and Diaries

Hand written diaries and letters can be an exciting find but not all our ancestors left these treasures. Remember to also look for places as someone may have written about a place they lived and mentioned events that would have also have involved our ancestors. Weather events, local businesses and social activities recorded by others may still help to place our own ancestors in those communities. Definitely look for places as well as people.

For example, Thomas Cockburn-Hood wrote to the government in 1879 asking if they were interested in German emigrants as he had a cousin who was married to someone in Bavaria connected to the King who could assist (Cockburn-Hood to McLean, MS Papers 0032-0344). Correspondence like this can be located by using terms such as emigrant, immigrant or even ship.

Emigration to New Zealand poster, 1850s, Sir George Grey Special Collections, 7-C2024, image courtesy Auckland Libraries.

Parliamentary Papers

Government departments and agencies submitted annual reports to parliament and these were published in the Parliamentary Papers. Annual immigration reports are useful as they can provide additional information on an ancestor’s ship of arrival and perhaps the voyage itself. Often the information is a statistical account but if there was an inquiry into the voyage, there may be additional narrative information.

Another example would be public health reports in times of epidemic or sickness. These may be reported on by district which would indicate how badly an area was affected by an epidemic.

Digital New Zealand

Digital New Zealand is another way of searching New Zealand’s online resources including archives, libraries, government departments and local history museums. There are over 31 million items in the following categories: stories, images, videos, audio, articles, books, archives, data, groups, guides and factsheets, journals, manuscripts, music score, newspapers, reference sources, research papers, websites and other.

You can search for a person, a place, event and add your own information to the story. If searching by date, you can select a decade such as the 1840s and even though this is a very early, there are still over 47,000 items.

Digital New Zealand is an easy way to see photographs of a place. For example, one of my mining families, Thomas Price (junior) and his wife and children lived in Runanga for a time and a search for Runanga returned numerous digitised photographs held in a variety of organisations. By clicking on the link, you are then taken to the host website and from there you can explore further.

Miners Hall Runanga ca 1910, ref: 1/2-179351-G, Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand, /records/22902759, image courtesy National Library of New Zealand.

Like other digitised collections, Papers Past and Digital New Zealand can be addictive, and it is very easy to spend hours researching in the digitised newspapers, journals and magazines, diaries and letters and parliamentary papers, especially if you start reading other items that catch your attention.

As you can see, Papers Past and Digital New Zealand are wonderful free, online resources that can assist anyone with New Zealand genealogy research. Good luck!

Shauna Hicks

About Shauna Hicks

Shauna Hicks has been tracing her own family history since 1977 and worked in government for over 35 years in libraries and archives in Brisbane, Canberra and Melbourne. Since retiring, she has written a number of family history guides and is a regular speaker at genealogy cruises, conferences and seminars. She now operates her own business at and is the author of the blog, Diary of an Australian Genealogist.

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